He sat at the table describing his experience with chemotherapy a couple of years ago.  “I have a different perspective now on the phrase, ‘Living in the moment.’” 

I asked, “What do you mean?”

He said, “Depression and despair is so great when at nine o’clock in the morning you can’t stand to think about the relief of going to sleep at nine o’clock in the evening.”

He went on to say, “Most of our lives we live in the space between something that we remember and something that we anticipate. Like when we visited our friend last weekend and when we are going to have dinner with another friend tomorrow.  Most of the time we think about what has happened, reveling in it or regretting it, and then what might happen that will be pleasant or that we dread.”

“But,” he said, “when your world shrinks into the compressed moment of feeling so terrible that you can’t even imagine the next hour, all you can stand to do is “live in the moment.’”

I had never thought about the suffering of some people that way. Pain and nausea can be so claustrophobic. The walls of pain can block our future and blind our memory.

I don’t know what his might mean. But, it does help me see why it is hard to know how to be with people in that kind of situation. And it helps explain why one of the best things we can do in the midst of suffering is simply “be with” another. There is no way that I can know what it is like to suffer that way. So, my words will be inadequate or empty. But, maybe quiet companionship in the squeezed-in box of pain and suffering can be helpful.